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«Does He Cut It? Struggles with authorship in the noise and improvisation practice of Mattin Fig. 1. Mattin, No Fun Festival performance, 2009 (brief ...»

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Does He Cut It?

Struggles with authorship in the noise and improvisation

practice of Mattin

Fig. 1. Mattin, No Fun Festival performance, 2009 (brief caption).

Yolande van der Heide



MA Arts & Culture

Specialisation: Modern and Contemporary Art

First reader: Eric De Bruyn

Second reader: Kitty Zijlmans

Class of 2015


Does He Cut it?


For over a decade, Basque artist Mattin has worked

collaboratively to make improvised noise concerts characterised by clusters of silence, scything feedback howls, and haunting shrieks, which are produced digitally with guitar, amongst other instruments. Often improvising with a an invited set of guests, Mattin’s noise concerts create situations of instability and uncertainty, and perhaps even a sense of danger, through the drama of his aesthetic which antagonises his audience, forcing them to become active participants whether they are willing or not. By engaging collaborators and audience alike, Mattin uses his noise concerts as a tactic to activate a shared state of political agony in a period of Western capitalist society’s demise.

Operating at the borders of noise music as a genre, Mattin’s improvisation practice is supplemented by his exploratory writings on improvisation and the importance of free software – a position he claims against the perils of intellectual property, defying any sense of ownership or property we may have. Mattin has over seventy albums attributed to him under several labels around the world, and has also independently founded the experimental record labels w.m.o/r and Free Software Series, as well as the net-based label, Desetxea. He releases and distributes his music under the no-license of anti-copyright, which further ramifies his political methods that are nonconformist and non-profit.

Problematising the occularcentric tendencies within art history, which privilege the visual over the sonic, this paper investigates Mattin's practice in terms of his own doctrine of noise practice, situating it as worthy of analysis within this disciplinary frame. Centering on Mattin’s contemporary practice I will investigate what is at stake in his quest to “cuts things up” and will do so by identifying a wider historical and socio-political context for his practice, touching on rock history and a number of other conceptual artistic practices. Through this lens, I will examine the political efficacy of Mattin’s methods in challenging authorial status; the relationship between performer and audience; as well as how such socially-inclined art practices can engage and contribute to the struggle against our commodified mode of existence.

–  –  –

In the early 2000s Basque artist Mattin (1977-) arrived on the European improvisational music scene as a noise computer musician: an unconventional technique of instrumentation that ranges from (mis)playing the computer as an instrument to using its technology to create improvised sounds, and in his case feedback and noise.

Around the same time, Mattin also began to deal with social issues more explicitly through his practice in an effort to investigate the political potential of music – an idea that is steeped in his musical upbringing.

A guitarist by training, Mattin started playing music in the early 1990s in the wake of the so-called “Getxo Sound” in Basque, Spain. Its 1970s-affiliated punk predecessor Herriko Rock Erradikala (or “Basque Radical Rock” in popularised English usage) is privy to the likes of the cut and dry violent aesthetic of the British punk forerunners: the Sex Pistols, known for their layered sound and punchy staccato lyrics. Getxo on the other hand, is typically softer in sound and takes after the likes of the American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. Gexto is further characterised by full melodic tones, often counterbalanced by general guitar-heavy noisiness, and completed by self-reflexive lyrics. Often sung in English, Gexto bands featured introspective or “EMO” lyrics such as El Inquilino Comunista's popular 1995 release Brains


“… Branch & concrete angels are falling with fire back dropping on top of your head it's hard to forget They're calling you’re there old regrets Trapped insects in little paper bags So in your seeping gravel bed, twilight open ear It's so hard to hear It's killing me... ”1 While popular Basque Radical Rock bands like Vomito

chanted more charged lyrics:

–  –  –

Despite their sonic differences, both Gexto and Basque Radical Rock have been inevitably shaped by the politics of the Basque Country and its long struggle for independence from Spain. General Francisco Franco (1892is responsible for the bombing the Basque town of Guernica3 during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with the support of his allies in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Under Franco’s repressive rule, Spain was dragged through a Civil War and both World Wars with the military support of local fascist, monarchist and right wing groups.4 Franco’s totalitarian regime ended with his death in 1975 and was succeeded by King Juan Carlos I (1938-) who is credited for transforming the country into its current democracy.

Basque Radical Rock is influenced by this turbulent period and its music became an explicit expression against the neoliberal brand of democracy promoted by Juan Carlos’s government. Whilst it could be said that the 1975 democratic regime once again opened Spain up to the world, this openness brought with it the championing of neoliberal ideals manifested most clearly in a suburban way of life.5 Categorically then Getxo Sound developed out of Basque Radical Rock and the socio-political changes of that time.

Getxo is also originally the name of a small industrial and affluent coastal town of about 80,000 inhabitants located in the province of Biscay. A small avalanche of music groups emerged from this location, which led to the establishing of a municipal subsidy scheme in the 1990s that in turn supported the development of Getxo rock.6 Seen within this context, Mattin’s political voice thus arguably stems from the Getxo scene supported by government funding. However, by the time he started playing music in the 1990s, the political climate in the Basque Country had begun to depoliticise as a result of widespread gentrification. To play Getxo music became a

Translated English chorus to Soy Un Bomba, original reads:

“Soy una bomba, una bomba nuclear Mi cuerpo está lleno de radioactividad Mato a la gente con mi imaginación Mi cerebro es un arma de destrucción”.

Translation provided by Larraitz Torres


http://webapps.aljazeera.net/aje/custom/2014/fightforbasque/index.html (15/01/2015).

http://www.elcorreo.com/vizcaya/v/20110428/margen-derecha/getxosound-marco-estilo-20110428.html (16/01/2015).

http://www.elcorreo.com/vizcaya/v/20110428/margen-derecha/getxosound-marco-estilo-20110428.html (16/01/2015).

6 Does He Cut it?

means of extracting oneself from this ubiquitous suburban reality. As a result of the influence of Anglo-Saxon bands on Basque Radical Rock and Getxo Sound, according to Mattin, “people had started singing in English, to distance themselves from their [neoliberal] immediate environment… It was also a class thing.”7 At the time, Mattin played Getxo rock in the small indie band Intedomine, who gained little acclaim.8

Informal Knowledge: “It's not the bohemian thing…”

Mattin began his visual arts and music education simultaneously. In 1995 he moved to London to improve his English and eventually enrolled in the Camberwell College of Arts for his undergraduate degree. He attained his Masters at Goldsmiths where he met and studied under English percussionist and founder of the free improvisation group AMM, Eddie Prévost (1942-), who influenced his practice a great deal. Mattin recounts

their encounter in an interview:

“Eddie's generosity was exemplary in the sense of giving us the courage to just go and do it. It inspired us to self-organise, get our concerts, get labels running, and write about what we do and so on…. Eddie had a kind of strategy, like ways of playing, duos, trios, and quartets. There wasn't much talking. Maybe that was kind of part of the AMM thing. After the workshops we'd go to the pub, and there we'd talk. Share information, organise concerts… I like talking! I don't make a distinction between talking and improvising anyway; they're both part of the same thing. I don't believe there's any kind of purity in playing music. There's a musical quality to talking and a conversational element to playing, and they feed each other. They're both ideologically and historically constructed practices, frameworks that limit (or focus) our scope of action.

The more that we talk about them, the more we're able to understand and transform them.”9 Mattin adopted Prévost’s method of improvising by blurring the lines between performance and life outside his concert situations – similar in spirit perhaps to the lively New http://www.elcorreo.com/vizcaya/v/20110428/margen-derecha/getxosound-marco-estilo-20110428.html (18/01/2015).

Mattin continued to play bass with band mates Iñigo Eguillor and Josetxo Anitua until the group officially disbanded in 2008 upon Anitua’s death.

http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/interviews/mattin.html (07/06/2013).

7 Does He Cut it?

York social scene of conceptual artists during the politically charged decades between the 1950s and 1970s.

Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner (1942-) for instance describes going to the Cedar Tavern, The Five Spot, Dillon’s and Max’s in New York as a youngster to “network”10 and in an Art in America article published in

December 2013 he reminisces:

“Everybody that was part of this amorphous scene, trying to change society, put in two or three nights in a bar, just to continue the conversations. The mise-en-scène set by artists, and the lifestyle that they are able to engender, is part of being an artist. It's not the bohemian thing, it's not the party, and it’s the idea that they can engender a lifestyle that stays within some kind of concept of their own needs”.11 Mattin’s participatory and collaborative practice seems to echo the experience described by Weiner, in that Mattin looks to instigate settings where informal knowledge is in constant exchange. In addition to studying under Eddie Prévost, another formative moment in Mattin’s career was during his attendance at Off-ICMC (International Computer Music Conference) at the Podewill Centre for Contemporary Arts, Berlin in 2000, where the likes of Polish experimental musician and composer Zbigniew Karkowski were

also in attendance. In the same interview he recalls:

“When I came back to London I got a computer. I basically liked that the computer was not only an instrument for music but for many other things. I

could basically run my label with the computer:

email, [make] covers, website, music, mastering, burning CDRs… But more and more I think the idea of the instrument is problematic. We're faced with so many possibilities: focussing on a single instrument sounds very reductive. Especially now that trumpets try to sound like electronics, and electronics like acoustic instruments, and so on. I try to think of ideas as instruments, to have a more open understanding of what improvisation could be, rather than focus on formal terms as it was before. At some point improvisation became so enclosed.”12 http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/artbars/ (18/01/2015).

http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/interviews/mattin.html (07/06/2013).

8 Does He Cut it?

The Off-ICMC conference set the tone for Mattin’s approach to music – driven by an anti-copyright ethos and a search for innovative ways of playing less concerned with traditional composition set by the Western Harmonic Scale.13 Building on a predominantly musical context, Mattin entered the art gallery setting in the early 2000s often collaborating with professional and non-professional improvisers and musicians alike in making noise concerts.

The participatory performances conducted together with these practitioners characteristically include discussions and some kind of instrumentation, where each contributor adds elements from their area of expertise that is in turn improvised together to make the noise concert. In other words noise practice occurs at three levels in Mattin’s practice: he makes noise records, he performs noise music to / with a noise familiar crowd and makes conceptual improvised concerts with collaborators and participants within a gallery setting that is not always familiar with the noise genre. Mattin’s repertoire of collaborators includes philosopher Ray Brassier (1965-), writer and editor Anthony Iles (n/a), improvisation musician Taku Unami (1976-), artist Emma Hedditch (1972-), trombonist and composer Radu Malfatti (1943-), as well as composer, sound artist, film maker and original member of Theatre of Eternal Music, Tony Conrad (1940-).

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